I'm having an issue these days with prayer. I know we are supposed to pray. We read examples in the Bible of times when God made it clear that a faithful man's prayers had changed His mind and His hand. We read that if you line up your desires with God's, then you will get whatever you ask for (which seems obvious since God is kind of guaranteed to get His way, and if you want the same things He wants, then you'll just be on the winning team. Otherwise...). We've even seen Jesus pray to God, and if He did it, and we're supposed to live like Him, then we know we need to pray too.
But how does one pray anyway? Do we just repeat the Lord's Prayer? Do we use the Lord's Prayer as a formula? Are those quick, one-word, 'popcorn' prayers enough? Or do we need to buy all those Stormie Omartian books? Do we need a prayer shawl or a head covering or beads for God to know we're taking this whole prayer thing seriously? Does it even matter that we use words since the Holy Spirit will interpret our needs and tell God what we mean? Are there other things we should be doing to increase the chances that God will not only listen, but take our praise and petitions into consideration?
I realize that prayer is a gift. If we see ourselves in relation to God, we can see how it's practically a miracle in itself that He would give an audience to our non-omniscient suggestions and pleas. But God loves us, and I believe He's geniunely interested in having a relationship with us. And as any female will tell you - LOVE is spelled T-I-M-E. How does someone build relationship with someone else? You spend time talking with each other, sharing your lives with each other. Right? I can totally understand how prayer can be poweful because it is a tool we can use to get to know God more. (Although, I imagine that the benefits are kind of one-sided. God already knows what's in our hearts. We couldn't hide our true feelings and intentions from Him if we tried. So communicating with Him doesn't help Him get to know us any better. I think the only thing it does for Him is to reveal our faith and commitment to Him.)
But other than as a means to build relationship with God, what else does prayer do exactly? Does it actually change God's mind? Can it convince Him to spare the life of a terminally-ill child? Can it prevent bad weather on your wedding day? Can it help the Texas Rangers actually WIN the World Series? (Guess you all have heard the answer to that one. Or maybe Giants fans just have a larger prayer chain.) Can praying actually get us a sweet parking spot when we're running late? And if we do get to park close, do we have the audacity to thank God because we assume He cares so much about us being on time to our ob/gyn appointment that He made some other car leave that spot empty? I mean, what exactly do we think God did there? Do we believe that He gave the secretary of the Realty company downstairs a hankering for a Big Mac so that she'd leave the office and make that spot available just as you were pulling into the parking lot? Or did some other shmuck get temporarily blinded to the spot as he drove by because he forgot to pray for a spot 3 feet from the door? What if you pray AND someone else prays for the same spot? I don't know what we're expecting God to do in these ridiculous kinds of situations. We can't possibly believe that God's Will and our will line up in those moments.
I do know that one day a few years ago, we were driving to church when the skies opened up and started dropping a ton of wind and rain and hail on us. Ben and I decided we were going to turn around and head back home instead. Gillian heard us talking about going home, and she prayed to God. She said something like "God, I really, really want to get to church, but it's storming out there. Will you please calm the storm?" And within seconds, literally like 10 seconds later, the wind died down to nothing, the rain and hail completely stopped, and so we kept driving. As we walked through the front doors of the church, Gillian said, "Thanks, God," and the storm returned. Howling winds, big huge drops of rain drumming on the windows, but we had made it. I was able to see how much it had increased Gillian's faith in Him. And everytime we retell that story, her faith is reinforced. So yea, God might give you a super close parking spot if He thinks you'll trust Him more because of it. Although I wouldn't count on it.
Great story, I know, but what about those prayers that seem to go unanswered? How do we wrap our brains around those? Does God not care about increasing some people's faith? Is He waiting for a better time to show up? What happens when entire communities, thousands of people, are praying for the healing of a young boy with cancer who ends up dying anyway? Do we truly believe that the more prayer lists your daughter is on, the more likely God will answer your prayer the way you're hoping He will? Then how do we sleep at night knowing that there are millions of children that we don't even know about who will never be on even a single prayer list? Did a little girl just did because she wasn't on a stupid list?! Did that marriage just dissolve because I forgot to pray that one night a few months ago? What happens to the faith of a mom who has prayed for her children since before they were born who gets a call that all of her kids were just killed in a car accident?
I know that prayer is a not a guarantee. I know that I don't know what's best for me, and that God supposedly does, so I need to just trust Him. And I know that that blows most of the time. I know that God can take something awful and turn it into a thing of beauty. I don't necessarily believe that He had planned for a lady's kid to die so that she would eventually learn how much her community cares about her when they show up afterwards to comfort, listen, hug, and care for her. I know that we pray a lot for things that we Christians are supposed to be doing. I know that praying for something makes me feel like I have done my Christian duty sometimes, even though the family I was praying for needed me to bring them that extra box of mac n cheese that I had instead. I know that I have prayed that a family would be able to come up with the funds needed to adopt a child while I sat in the drive-thru line at McDonald's because I'd rather buy a few Happy Meals than use the groceries that I had at home to make dinner. Praying can convince us that we are doing something to better our world. But I think a lot of the time, God's answer to those prayers is us. He doesn't want us to JUST pray. He wants us to pray AND do what we can. But we pray, leave it at that, and then wonder why our prayers aren't being answered. I'm just saying.
I'm not sure if my issue here is with God's goodness vs the World's badness, Free Will vs. Determinism, or if I'm just struggling with Faith in general. But it's a dark place to be when you don't know if your prayers are being heard or considered.